Institutionalized Racism in Canada’s Educational System

Institutionalized Racism in Canada’s Educational System

The foundations of Canada’s educational system was built on the colonization, exploitation and genocide of its Indigenous people. The institutionalized racism and classism that has been historically present in Canada’s systems are not just found within the State’s educational structure, but also throughout its government and its policies, it’s healthcare system, it’s justice system, and it’s local and global markets. In addition, all these socially constructed systems are intertwined, in that they work for and with each other in order to benefit those who are white and rich. And of course, the colonized, and those who were and continue to be exploited, are the ones who suffer at the hands of the elusive ruling class. These exploited groups would normally include the poor and those who are not white (the Black and Indigenous communities, and those who recognize themselves as People of Colour). 

Canada’s educational system began with the European colonization of the Americas, with its inception propelled by the developing capitalist system in society and European imperialism. The Europeans were so quick to exploit Native Canadian land and people in order to profit and utilize this new resource, all while pertaining to their nationalism. Institutionalized racism and white supremacy first manifests in the Canadian education system in the form of Indian Residential Schools, a system designed to completely remove Indigenous culture from its people and aimed to replace Native culture with Eurocentric beliefs and values. Residential schools were the result of a series of laws and policies by a number of colonizing efforts to assimilate Indigenous peoples from what the Europeans thought were inferior beliefs and ways of life. The first residential school was the Mohawk Institute, opening in 1831, with most residential schools established after 1880. And in 1892, the churches ran the schools (Centennial College, 2018, p. 10). Many of the children who were forced into residential schools were unable to return to their homes, their families unaware of their deaths; the primary causes of death for the victims being disease, malnutritions, poor living conditions, fire, and physical abuse (Centennial College, 2018, p. 30). And for those who did survive these horrors, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, testified to the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse they experienced while at the schools (Centennial College, 2018, p. 10). The last residential school did not close until 1996 (Centennial College, 2018, p. 10). To this day, the Indigenous community and Canadians of all walks of life still mourn the loss of these children, families mourn their loved ones, survivors and their families are still struggling with the trauma, all while the remains of children are still being found in the remnants of these schools. Residential schools were the epitome of institutionalized racism in the Canadian educational system. 

Although not as overt as the residential schools, institutionalized racism and classism within the Canadian education system is still very much prevalent. The system is racist and classist to Canadian minority students and educators alike. 

In Carr and Klassen’s (1997) work in “Different Perceptions of Race in Education: Racial Minority and White Teachers,” the authors note data from the 1994-1995 Toronto Board of Education that show that many Black students are streamed into lower-level programs and have a higher-than-average dropout rate (Carr & Klassen, 1997, p. 68). They also refer to the fact that Black and Aboriginal people have lower educational outcomes than other groups and state that the formal and hidden curriculum, involvement of parents, teacher effectiveness, beliefs in minority groups, and school culture can be used as explanations to the low educational outcomes or underperformance of some groups in schools. With this data, Carr and Klassen add how in Toronto, almost fifty percent of students are racial minorities, whereas only ten percent of teachers are racial minorities (Carr & Klassen, 1997, p. 69). That being said, the two investigates the perception of white and racial minority teachers regarding antiracist education within the Toronto Board of Education. They found that Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) teachers face greater barriers than white teachers in the education system, barriers that disrupt the racial diversity in education. In addition, Carr and Klassen found that some white teachers thought that employment equity was creating barriers against them, while other white teachers believed that employment equity would interfere with the merit principle, “The vast majority of white teachers contended that the Board was giving priority to hiring racial minority teachers, whereas racial minority teachers were divided on whether or not the TBE was placing an emphasis on hiring racial minority teachers,” (Carr & Klassen, 1997, p. 74). In other words, not only are there complications within the board themselves and their inability to accommodate BIPOC students with BIPOC educators that are able to educate them more efficiently through their shared lived experience, but the white educators a part of the system question the legitimacy of the BIPOC educators hired. Carr and Klassen’s findings illustrate how racial origins influence teachers perceptions and reinforce the notion that lived experiences influence teachers' views about antiracist education. They state that the validation of lived experiences around race is important in improving the experience of all students and emphasizes the importance of teachers to understand the importance of race and racism in education and how institutional and structural barriers reinforce arbitrary power relations.Looking within institutionalized racism in post-secondary education, in their work in “On the Effectiveness of Anti-Racist Policies in Canadian Universities: Issues of Implementation of Policies by Senior Administration,” Dua (2009), invesitgates the 1989 Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada, analyzing thirty-seven Canadian universities on the extent in which these institutions have developed their policies and practises for addressing race relation. And in their research, Dua found that only few have actually developed formal or inclusive policy statement that addressed racism; that, as the attention of anti-racist activists on university campuses has been focused on advocating for anti-racist policies, as encouraging as these policies are, they are rarely implemented effectively on university campuses and curriculum (Dua, 2009, p. 178). In fact, Dua states a series of instances regarding the overwhelming patterns of racism and whiteness in Canadian academia during the past twenty years. They exaplain that there needs to be policies that include mechanisms and procedures that emphasizes the support from senior administrators for the effective implementation of anti-racist policies (Dua, 2009, p. 193). 

Institutionalized racism and its overlap with classism also applies when analyzing Canada’s post-secondary educational system and the government “aid” used to assist these prospective students. Even before admittance, university and college costs are financially straining to low and middle income families. For instance, Houle (2020) mentions how Black immigrant populations stand out in their prevalence of lone mothers, compared with the rest of the Canadian population, and how this negatively associates with their socioeconomic situation. In addition, not only is this trend found in immigrant Black populations, but also Black populations of second generation or third generations in Canada. And in these cases, it is harder for these mothers to send their children to post-secondary schools. Unfortunately, the government aid that can be utilized to help pay for post secondary studies puts these students in heavy student debt that could take years, if not decades to pay off.  

In addition, in McConaghy’s (1994) “Canadian Education: Voices in Conflict”,  McConaghy refers to Sandro Contenta’s Rituals of Failure: What Schools Really Teach. Contenta refers to Egerton Ryerson - the chief superintendent of education for Upper Canada and whose efforts initiated residential schools (Centennial College, 2018, p. 19) - who established a “hidden curriculum” where the behaviour of students is shaped by the structure and teachings of the schools. Contenta states that the aim of the present school system is to develop people who willingly accept the status quo, doing so by enforcing habits that resulted in passivity and submission (McConaghy, 1994, p. 811). Contenta states scenarios where this hidden curriculum discourages critical thinking, scenarios that discourages critical thinking through the memorization of dormant facts, and is assessed by standardized tests. By discouraging critical thinking, doing so does not allow students to position themselves into the higher thinking that allows them to propel themselves up the corporate ladder, and instead, keeps them submissive as minimum wage workers. 

With the prevalence of institutionalized racism and classism in Canada’s education system, those within Canadian society who are most impacted by these systems are Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, and those with low to middle household incomes. In other words, those who suffer the most under institutionalized racism and classism are those who are neither white nor rich. BIPOC communities are faced with the prejudices and discriminations that oppressive education systems implement on both their students and their educators; whereas low to middle income families are unable to afford the resources (normally through the advancement of education, most specifically post-secondary education) needed to accommodate their growing expenses. 

A way in which racism within Canadian educational systems can be reduced is through the mandatory implementation of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the curriculum, especially in the elementary school grades.  CRT draws from and extends a broad literature base in law, sociology, history, ethnic studies, and women’s studies and offers insights, perspectives, methods, and teachings that guide efforts to identify, analyze and transform the structural and cultural aspects of education that maintain racial positions in and out of the classroom (Solorzano, Ceja & Yosso, 2000, p. 63). It is important to note that racism is not innate, but is learned behaviour. It is taught, first and foremost, at home, and is heightened at schools. That being said, CRT should be taught as early as possible, and advanced as children grow older. In addition, education boards must hire a diverse team of staff and educators, and absolve any discrepancies that may arise regarding policies on employment equity, including any backlash from white staff and seniority conflicts. 

In regards to instances of classism found within the Canadian educational system, the government must do better in implementing aid to post-secondary students. At the most, education should be free, if not at the least, easily accessible to everyone, regardless of race or class. These finances for free or accessible education should be compensated through Canadian tax dollars and managed by either the federal or provincial government, most likely how the Canadian healthcare system is set up. In addition, student debt should be forgiven during this transition. Canada/Canadian provinces should be well able to readjust their budgets to accommodate schooling, for it is a right - not a privilege - to go to school.  

Even though the suggested solutions to remedy institutionalized racism and classism in Canada’s education system, may seem hard to fathom… it really is not.  The current Canadian school systems have their foundations based on capitalist institutions and white supremacy brought about by colonial Eurocentric ideologies and must be completely restructured in order to accommodate an inclusive population. The most difficult thing about imaging free education is the fact that everyone is so used to how the current system is set up. The system in which the current educational institutions are setup must be re-examined and changed. The board of education and the government of Canada must prioritize education in their agendas in order to pertain to their diverse population. One of the most important means to success is through the development of knowledge, and as we live in such a privileged country, everyone is entitled to a sufficient education, especially the Indegenous people of Canada. 


Carr, P., & Klassen, T. (1997). Different Perceptions of Race in Education: Racial Minority and White Teachers. 

Canadian Journal of Education / Revue Canadienne De L'éducation, 22(1), 67-81. 


Centennial College (2018). Section One: Indian Residential School System In Our Stories: First Peoples in 

Canada (pp.10-31). Retrieved from

DUA, E. (2009). On the Effectiveness of Anti-Racist Policies in Canadian Universities: Issues of 

Implementation of Policies by Senior Administration. In HENRY F. & TATOR C. (Eds.), Racism in the 

Canadian University: Demanding Social Justice, Inclusion, and Equity (pp. 160-196). Toronto; Buffalo; 

London: University of Toronto Press. Retrieved from


Houle, R. (2020, August 13). Changes in the socioeconomic situation of Canada’s Black population, 2001 to 

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McConaghy, T. (1994). Canadian Education: Voices in Conflict. The Phi Delta Kappan, 75(10), 810-811. 

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Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical Race Theory, Racial Microaggressions, and Campus 

Racial Climate: The Experiences of African American College Students. The Journal of Negro 

Education, 69(1/2), 60-73. Retrieved from

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